The Inside Man is focusing on the lessons he is learning after moving to South Africa to do a Sports Diploma at a prestigious Rugby University. However, all names and locations have been altered for legal reasons. The Inside Man discusses coaching styles, difference in playing styles and specific issues within the team and season, as he dissects the incredibly professional and intense structure of South African rugby.
KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, SOUTH AFRICA:
Part 6: Playing against yourself
I stated in the last article that I am not a qualified psychologist, and yet I am willing to bet that, at the end of his career, every rugby coach, be they professional or amateur, feels they deserve some kind of honorary degree in sports psychology. Because make no mistake the tightrope that coaches have to walk in order to motivate and challenge but not alienate is the thinnest of thin red lines. One of the great lines about Shaun Edwards (rugby league player, rugby union coach and all round hard man), was that he knew which players to slap in the face and tell them they were playing like crap, and which ones to go and put an arm round. That is just the size of the task at hand for coaches in any sport. Teach, encourage, analyse……and then psycho-analyse.
But even they cannot arrest certain slumps, anybody see where this is going yet? Because this particular writer is starting to sound like a broken (and if I may say so angry) record! Even WITH a psychology degree, even if they had the greatest coach in the world coaching them, there are some losing streaks that are simply down to the players fighting themselves.
This streak is just such a horror show. There are some very clear-cut signs of this schizophrenic manifestation, despondency in the players, lack of enthusiasm and a nervousness that shows itself in simple dropped balls and basic mistakes. The players become so busy worrying about what everyone thinks of them, that they pile the pressure on themselves before they have even realized that the team they are playing are really not all that impressive. And yet in brief moments, during the game (this particular one and any number of others in the rugby world), there will be snapshots of the team we all know and love. In this case it came towards the end of the second half, punching the ball into the heart of the opposition, the forwards realized just how simple it was if they did how they had done it since they first picked up a ball, hit at pace, drop the shoulder, keep driving the legs. In other words RELAX AND DO WHAT COMES NATURALLY TO YOU!!!!!! Lo and behold an angel came down and said how about you just run hard at the gain line and see what happens, hark they scored two fast tries! But not enough, a tantalizing glimpse at the fearsome potential of this team snatched away at the last.
So how does one stop this? How do you coach something that cannot be coached? Simple (ish), give their love of the game a chance to flourish. Take their minds off the fact that they are playing such high level rugby and on to why they love to play this game. In this team’s case, a short sharp session, 25 minutes of fitness then some conditioning touch games, with a few extra rules to keep it amusing. Relaxed players can often be more effective than psyched up players. Relaxation allows correct decisions to be made, tempers to remain calm and execution to be well…..executed. Above all a fun session like this can often make players realize that actually all that matters is them and their mind set, not the crowds, not their parents and in truth when they are on the pitch not even the coaches.
The effects of this particular session on this particular team will not be noticed until the end of this week with a double whammy of games, on Thursday then Monday, both against teams we should have beaten in the opening rounds. But one thing is for sure. When everyone expects you to do one thing sometimes it can be more effective to do something completely from left field. Surprise the players, challenge them and give them something new to do as opposed to the same routine of run-throughs and fitness. If you are on a losing streak really the question has to be, what else have you got to lose? If you cannot come up with an immediate answer then all you need is an hour, just to press the restart button. At this point in the season, they know structures they are bored of line-outs so give them a chance to go back to their childhood days of just running around with the ball. And already I sound like Freud no?
Next week we will know where the rest of our season is heading, and if we have a chance at the finals, two games in four days is hard, but a knock on effect of a first up victory may be all that is required. Cross your fingers and pray to any gods you know.
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